Utne Reader Visionary: Subcomandante Marcos

When the Zapatista Army of National Liberation rose up in Chiapas in January 1994 to challenge the Mexican state and lay bare the brutal truth of Mexican politics, this masked rebel–no one knows his name–spoke for the mostly Indian insurgents with poetic fervor and wit. Marcos’ language, so much fresher and deeper than the clichés of Marxist revolutionary rhetoric, seemed in itself to be an emblem of renewal.

We don’t know who Marcos is any more than the Mexican government does, and we didn’t interview him. This passage comes from Shadows of Tender Fury: The Letters and Communiques of Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, translated by Frank Bardacke et al. (Monthly Review Press, 1995).

“Our war cries opened the deaf ears of the almighty government and its accomplices. Before, for years and years, our voice of dignified peace could not come down from the mountains; the governments built tall strong walls to hide themselves from our death and our misery. Our strength had to break down those walls in order to enter our history again, the history they had snatched away from us, along with the dignity and reason of our peoples.

“In that first blow to the deaf walls of those who have everything, the blood of our people, our blood, ran generously to wash away injustice. To live, we die. Our dead once again walked the way of truth. Our hope was fertilized with mud and blood.

“But the word of the oldest of the old of our peoples didn’t stop. It spoke the truth, saying that our feet couldn’t walk alone, that our history of pain and shame was repeated and multiplied in the flesh and blood of the brothers and sisters of other lands and skies.

“‘Take your voice to other dispossessed ears, take your struggle to other struggles. There is another roof of injustice over the one that covers our pain.’ So said the oldest of the old of our peoples. We saw in these words that if our struggle was alone again, once again it would be useless. So we directed our blood and the path of our dead to the road that other feet walked in truth. We are nothing if we walk alone; we are everything when we walk together in step with other dignified feet…

From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast
Mexico, February 1994

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